Monday, January 13, 2014

Preach The Word

I suppose that nobody plans to pastor a small church. In our pastoral minds we see people flocking (pun intended) to the church to hear our excellent preaching and teaching. Eventually the church will grow so that it is no longer a small church. But the truth is that most of the churches are actually small - less than 75 people.

Pastoring a small church means that the pastor is a shepherd (which is what pastor means). The shepherd is personally responsible for feeding the sheep, protecting them against predators, and dealing with their individual injuries. In a larger church the pastor is actually more of an administrator and the sheep are cared for by their small group leaders. (So the small groups are actually small churches within the large church...)

But pastoring is full of painful disappointments. For one thing people are not generally flocking to hear biblical preaching. Andy Stanley writes that people are not all that interested in truth - they are interested in happiness. So the solution (according to him) is to scratch their itch and make the church services and messages about their happiness. Messages that are more motivational talks than divine proclamation. Everything is topical and gives people practical advice that they can take home and plug in.

The problem is that I cannot do that. The commission I have from God goes like this...
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1–4) 
It seems to me that this specifically orders me to be concerned with communicating the truth rather than with teaching the things that suit people's own passions. If suiting people's passions is the secret to building a big (or bigger) church, then I guess I'm in trouble.

The word of God does not address the temporal happiness of people except to say that is not what they should be pursuing. They should be aiming higher - at eternal happiness.

Ironically, Andy Stanley justifies his happiness approach by referencing Jesus' sermon on the mount. Stanley (correctly) points out that the "blessed" in the beatitudes can be translated "happy." So, he says, Jesus is attracting people by telling them how to be happy. But look a little closer at Matthew 5:1-12

According to Jesus they would be happy if they:
  • Are poor in spirit (i.e., afflicted)
  • Are mourning (ironically)
  • Are meek (i.e., not the great and powerful)
  • Hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • Are merciful
  • Are pure in heart
  • Are peacemakers
  • Are persecuted for righteousness sake
  • Are reviled, persecuted and slandered for following Christ

The general point of the passage is that things are not the way they seem to the people of this temporal world. Those who are happiest and most powerful here are not the ones who will ultimately be happy. Those who are oppressed here for the cause of Christ (which involves a knowledge and obedience of God's truth) are the ones who will be ultimately blessed. But that blessing is beyond this world.

So, I guess I'm stuck. I would like to see people flock to the truth, but they don't. And while bigger flocks of people would make me happy in this temporal world - I am counting on happiness in the eternal life God has promised me. Part of that eternal happiness for me will be related to obeying God's word by preaching God's word - the whole counsel of God.

Preach the Word. It is the truth that people need - even when they don't want it.